Author of Blog: Daniel Day

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Streetcar Part II: Buses aren't Better than Rail

Sorry for not getting this out last week but life got in the way. 

During this entire debate about the streetcar, I've constantly heard that buses were better choice.  I don't know why San Antonio thinks that buses are better than rail, but they do at the detriment to the city's transportation system. Yet when I'm in Dallas or any other city with passenger rail, I stick to that passenger rail system because it is easier to use, because the ride is smoother, there's hardly ever any delays and I don't get lost. Yet we here in San Antonio believe that rail is worse just because we're simply told so.

When you ride the bus like I do every day, you get use to the bumpy ride, the wheelchairs taking forever to board, and mothers struggling to fold strollers.  We take this for granted and we're told by the same anti rail people to SUCK it up and deal with it. Yet when I ride the rail in other cities, I don't see mothers folding their strollers, wheelchairs taking 5 minutes to board or worse yet, dealing with a full bicycle rack, so how are buses better than rail?  Explain to me why in this video it is taking this lady in a wheelchair two minutes to board and get strapped in while boarding the bus while the guy in the wheelchair is taking what, less than a second to board the light rail train. and the rest of the time positioning the chair into the wheelchair parking space.

The argument brought forth every time that buses are better than rail because buses are flexible, they can go everywhere and that's true, but that is also the biggest weakness to buses success and it's flexibility is used against the hostage users every time causing less ridership and more car dependence.  If our highway system were as flexible as we are with the routing of buses, then we would be against having highways in the first place.  They would be untrusted, have a sense of utter Confusion and lack of dependability.  So lets apply the same rule that makes buses so great, the flexibility to the highways of San Antonio.  Below are a series of maps of the highway system in San Antonio, TX.  On the first Image, you see what is the normal system of highways,  I-10 going Northwest and then east, I-35 going from the Northeast to the Southwest, and Loop 410 going around San Antonio as well as US 90, US 281, and I-37.(Image 18-1)  Now if our highways acted like a bus system, they would probably look like this today (Image18-2)   And even worse, the routes numbers would be like this over that same map.(Image 18-3)




Now apply this same concept to the routing of our bus system.  Every time we reroute a bus because of (construction, low ridership, lack of resources, ect) we lose riders, because of that constant rerouteing or cancellation of routes, we in essence creates a sense of utter confusion and lack of dependability yet we are led to believe that buses are better because of their flexibility. This is what is keeping the Choice Users off the bus because there's a constant confusion on where the bus is going.  Because of the bus flexibility, people have a hard time understanding how to use the bus system.

From my daily observation, I constantly see people boarding the bus and bitching to the bus driver which by default, doesn't know the whole system, that they're lost.  It is not uncommon for me to overheard people asking others about the 75 and the 76, bus routes because even today hostage users don't understand that the 75 makes stops every 2 blocks while the 76 is a skip stop bus and makes stops roughly at major destinations.  What people need to understand that it takes a certain type of skill to use a bus system.  It requires the user to remember what bus route goes where and when.  If you don't have this skill, you'll end up boarding the wrong bus and being late to an appointment.  What people need to understand that the skills required to use a bus system is the knowledge of how to read a map, how to read a bus schedule, and where the buses are going on that map.  And since most people have a hard time reading a map in the first place and the bus drivers don't know the entire system by heart, it is no wonder why people opt out of riding the buses in the first place.  Now added to the ability to change bus route on a dime, thus making using the bus system very frustrating thing to use.

We see this frustration reflected in our pop culture which consider the bus a disgusting thing to ride.  When songs are written about buses, they're describing a horrible experience like Weird Al Yankovich "Another one rides the bus," or the bus in the opening of the music video "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N'Roses..  And because of this constant negative experience, even the kindergarten song "The Wheels on the bus goes round and round," mentions a crying baby, yet we're told over and over again that buses are better than rail.

Some of our car commercials reflect also reflect buses in a negative light as well.  For example, the recent Drive Time commercial has the rescue of the hostage user by getting him off the bus and into a car.  Others like this Bar NONE commercial has the hostage user being approved at the bus stop while at the same time you hear how bad the bus are.  It continues like this other one from Car Loan Pal shows the sorry state of affairs of not having a car and being a hostage user, a person who is stuck riding the bus.  But I guess this car commercial tells it like it is from Cars 2 GO saying you 'better not pick up any bitches at the bus stop' and yet we're told over and over again that buses are better than rail.

Passenger trains however are treated differently in our pop culture for it's not just the fact that trains have been around a lot longer, but when the passenger trains are portrayed in music, they are put in a positive light.  From the old blues song about "Rock Island Road" by LeadBelly, to modern day rock videos like Howie Day's "Collide," there's no shortage of the praise for the train; from Luther Vandros, R.E.M, Aerosmith (1:52), Cyndi Lauper (4:21).  I can go on and on, but I guess Enya takes the cake as it for she's not singing about Buses and Winter Rain, she's singing "Trains and Winter Rains.  If buses are better than rail and were the preferred way to travel, then why is Enya on her way home riding the train?   Yet we're told over and over again that buses are better than rail.

I'm not finish yet for the heavy metal band It's Casual sang a song about Los Angeles's Subway, "The Red Line."  This guy isn't banging to riding the bus, he's celebrating the subway.  And lets face it, even our lousy governor Rick Perry has gotten into the act of supporting the evil communist train in Dallas, for just recently he made this statement celebrating the recent connection of the Orange Line to DFW Airport.  Yet we're told over and over again that buses are better than rail.

I don't know about you, but if the best thing about buses is that there flexible, and yet they're uncomfortable, bumpy and take a utter long time to put wheelchairs and bicycles on board, then why are they so great?  If San Antonio wants to have a dependable public transportation system, we are going to need to invest in passenger rail infrastructure, light rail or otherwise.  Bus have there use, but not for the mass movement of people.  They have their limits, not just in the passenger capacity, but in utter dependability.  This is the main reason why GM brought out all those streetcar systems in the early 20th century and  San Antonio wasn't immune to this for by 1932, the rail was gone.

If San Antonio is to have a good public transportation system, it will eventually have to adopt rail as a mode of travel.  The Streetcar, would have provided this only in the downtown area, but we're going to need a system that serves all of San Antonio's 535 square miles if it going to be effective.  And yet as you read this now, next week, you be reading how we don't need a streetcar to have a great city.  That's because even though more people would have used it, the goal of the Streetcar wasn't to improve transportation but to increase downtown development.  This is something San Antonio doesn't wish, for it wishes for the speed of a Subway, not the slowness of a Streetcar. 

18-1 thru 18-3:  used original image from  and photo shop the rest. 

 Up Coming Important Meetings
If you want to make a difference, please attend.

Lee's Creek, Joe Ward and Sunset Hills Parks Plan Review Public Meeting
When:  Wednesday, August 20, 2014 6:00 PM
Where:  Joe Ward Community Center,  435 E. Sunshine, San Antonio, TX 78228
What Should You Ask For:  The thing to ask for at this meeting are good sidewalks,  20 mile per hour speed limits and safe ways to get to the park down Hillcrest and St Cloud such as bike lanes down those stroads.  

When:   Saturday, August 28, 2014, 9AM-12PM
Where:  Christopher Columbus Italian Society 201 Piazza Italia.
Bexar County and San Antonio River Authority, in cooperation with the City of San Antonio, will host a public workshop seeking input on concept designs for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.  The project will focus on flood mitigation, the revitalization of natural habitats, water quality, and recreational and economic opportunities.
What Should you say:  Ask that safe routes for bicycles be included on the streets such as bike lanes, Protected bike lanes, cycletracks, and good sidewalks to and from the creek to safely connect neighborhoods. Ask that NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) standards be applied to these improvements. 

Up Coming Bicycle Events

Glow Roll SA 
When:   Saturday, August 28, 2014
Where:  Travis Park, 301 E Travis
Every 4th Saturday!
3p-9p: Amor y Arte Travis Park
5p-6p: NYA
5p-9p: Shop & Eat, artisans from SA Made by Hand Mercado
6p-8:30: Live Dance Routines/Instruction
6p-8:45: Bike Decorating with The KickStand SA
9p: Wheels Down (*ride thru Downtown SA & return back to Travis Park)

Andy's Bike Garage will be on hand for bike service & bike accessories!
Come light up the night on your bikes & take a social ride with us through Downtown SA!! Glow Sticks provided, limited supplies while they last!  Or go to the DollarTree and buy them. ;)

 Cycle In-Cinema .  
When:   Every Thursday, June-August at Dusk, 8:45pm
Where:  Main Plaza, 115 N Main Ave, 78205
Description:  Out Door Movie.  

When:  Sunday Sept 28, 2014 10AM to 3PM
Where: Broadway downtown
Description:  Where San Antonio returns the streets back to the  people for a few hours.  Really a great event.  More info at

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